News National Shorten cleared at commission

Shorten cleared at commission

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Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten is not expected to face any adverse findings from the trade unions royal commission after the inquiry’s lawyers said he did not engage in criminal or unlawful conduct while a union official.

However, commission lawyers did urge a finding that Mr Shorten’s successor as head of the Victorian branch of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), now-Victorian MP Cesar Melhem, may have breached laws regarding corrupt commissions in relation to $25,000 in payments the union received from cleaning contractor Cleanevent.

In submissions released late on Friday night, counsel assisting the commission made no suggestion that Commissioner Dyson Heydon make findings against Mr Shorten in relation to his time as leader of the AWU.

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“There is no submission that Mr Bill Shorten may have engaged in any criminal or unlawful conduct,” a statement from the commission said.

In response, a spokesman for Mr Shorten slammed the commission.

“This was a politically motivated royal commission set up by the Liberal Party to throw mud and smear its political opponents,” the spokesman said.

“As Mr Shorten has always said, he has always acted in the best interests of workers.”

Mr Shorten appeared before the royal commission over two days in July and answered questions about his time at the head of the federal and Victorian AWU before he entered parliament in 2007.

Under the spotlight was a 2010 agreement under which Cleanevent paid the AWU $25,000 a year in membership fees and the union’s agreement to continue a workplace agreement that kept cleaners on lower hourly rates, saving Cleanevent $1.5 million a year in wages.

Mr Melhem defended the deal when he appeared before the commission, but lawyers for the commission have submitted that a finding be made that the now-Victorian MP may have committed an offence under the Victorian Crimes Act by soliciting a corrupt commission.

The same finding has been suggested against the AWU.

Commission lawyers have also recommended that Mr Heydon conclude Mr Melhem breached Victorian corrupt commission laws in relation to a side deal reached between the AWU and executives of Thiess John Holland (TJH), the company that built Victoria’s $2.5 billion EastLink motorway.

The commission heard the deal involved TJH paying the AWU $100,000 a year over the three years of the EastLink project.

Commission lawyers have submitted that the concept of a deal was proposed by Mr Shorten and agreed by Mr Melhem and TJH executive Julian Rzesniowiecki.

The lawyers say findings of corrupt commission law breaches are open to be made against Mr Melhem, Mr Rzesniowiecki, the AWU and Thiess John Holland.

Mr Shorten faced questions in July about a $40,000 donation from labour hire company Unibilt for his 2007 election campaign, which funded his campaign director, Darren Wilson, but listed Mr Wilson as a research officer for Unibilt.

Mr Shorten declared the donation in the days before his appearance.

The commission’s lawyers have submitted that no definite conclusion can be drawn on the issue.

Ten chapters of the submissions on the AWU were released by the commission on Friday night.

Affected parties can now make submissions in reply before Mr Heydon makes his finding, which will be handed to the governor-general by December 31 and will include any referrals to enforcement agencies for charges to be considered.



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